On finding your passion
A few years ago I was catching up with an old friend from my childhood over the phone. It was an electric conversation — we were both thrilled to hear from each other. The dreaded question came up.
“What have you been up to?”
I hated this question. For the longest time, I had felt like I had no true passion. I looked around the room — my peers were athletic, creative, and smart. I felt like a weird, small slice of all of those. A jack of all trades, but a master of none.
Quite honestly, I have actually lost sleep over this specific thing.
I’m not sure what I would answer each and every time I was asked that, but I assure you it was most likely not interesting. It became abundantly clear I needed to find my passion. I was given some sort of quest that I couldn’t turn down.
Now that I’m older it has become an obsession to try new things. I began to over-compensate for the past by trying to open every single door possible. I began collecting hobbies like trading cards. I realized that the only reason I hadn’t been trying things was because of that deep rooted fear.
I started trying everything.
Most recently, I have been interested in: writing, youtube, running, photography, hiking & camping, productivity, reading, investing, community development, conversations with strangers (more on this later), solo-traveling, meditation, twitter, cooking, and more.
It feels absurd to have this many hobbies. When you’re spread thin, you excel at nothing. Doesn’t Malcom Gladwell say I need 10,000 hours to become a master at something? Why haven’t I gone all in on that one thing?
Easy: I haven’t found that one thing. In fact, I don’t even believe there is just one, singular thing for every person. Even if there were that one singular passion, how would you know when you arrived? That whole idea feels akin to flying on a spaceship, blind-folded. Sure, the ride is a lot of fun, but not knowing when or if you will reach your destination is anxiety inducing.
Secondary to that? Most things I do, I get tired of after too long. I can’t write at my computer all day or my eyes hurt. I can’t read all day or my mind starts to wander. I can’t run too long or my legs start to hurt. Even with the things that provide me immeasurable hope, I can’t completely release myself.
Face it: Most things just suck in excess. Understand that even if someone were to even have one true passion, they still wouldn’t want to do it every single hour of every single day. The things we’re passionate about aren’t abundantly clear because they are so ordinary to us. We experience and find joy in them every day, at ordinary intervals.
I love how Mark Mason describes this exact phenomenon: “If you’re passionate about something, it will already feel like such an ingrained part of your life that you will have to be reminded by people that it’s not normal, that other people aren’t like that.” Some things have become so second nature to me because it’s a part of my personality.
That’s just the thing.
OUR PASSIONS SHOULD BE A GARDEN.
When I was young, I loved to write. I wrote a children’s book that my mom helped me try and get published. It didn’t. Probably because it sucked. But after that, I was writing short stories in Pennsylvania. I was actually given a small award for one at school. Around that time, I was also writing short stories and publishing them on message boards. I was making friends and connecting online. It wasn’t always beautiful like that. There were times where I didn’t want to write because of school, or video-games, or friends.
But, I’m still here. Writing. It has been (w)right in front of me all along.
It’s fun to think about how I got here, and how this interest solidified over time. What’s even more fascinating is to explore the stages of my interests by tracking their evolution over time.
In Sean McCabe’s book Overlap, he argues that our quest to discover our passion isn’t wasted time. Meaning, you should never slip into a posture of netflix defeat as a result of frustration. Instead, he argues that each interest we take can potentially build on, or overlap with a new or existing one. There is value there, you just have to spend enough time with it.
You have to power through with raw grit in order to know what you truly love.
To me, our interests can be very similar to a beautiful garden. Each new input can evolve over time into something that is so much more. Given that you care for it. Also, no one ever just grows a single rose. They grow a rose garden.
We need to not only keep watering our existing hobbies, but planting new ones as well. Each and every seed we plant can only serve to illuminate our future. My friend said, “at the very least, we’re professional seed planters.” So at best, you have a ton of fulfilling interests, at worst you got caught trying.
Sounds like great odds to me.
YOUR INTERESTS ARE NOT LINEAR.
In the movie Pursuit of Happiness, Chris Gardner is quoted breaking his life into stages at different points in the story. These stages are essentially his self-designated book chapters in his own spoken autobiography. They encapsulate his feelings at that time.
Chris Gardner: [voice-over] This part of my life… this part right here? This part is called being “stupid.”
I look at my life and passions through a very similar telescope. I’ll explain why.
This part of my life… this part right here? This part is called “discovery.”
- When I was young, I wanted to be a karate star. Feasible goals, but I’m not sure how viable that is to support a family some day.
- After that, I wanted to be a video game creator. My friends and I actually scribbled an entire notebook of drawings, ideas, and so much more. It was essentially a rip off of a popular web game at the time, but we were still inspired.
- After that, I did get serious about computers. I was coding small games, teaching myself dreamweaver, and making friends on the internet. It was a crazy and transformative time, and I knew I would be in front of computers forever.
- From there, my career grew transformed from computers into general technology. I spent a large chunk of college studying technology. I’ve worked in technology related roles since 2014. I became a Director of Systems, I’ve worked for software companies. I practically breathe technology.
To Sean McCabe’s point, these interests built on each other over time from a very fulfilling hobby into a lucrative career. Spending all that time along the way led me here. I have just started my garden. I find solace in the things I’m excited about these days. I love the array of interests I have, and can’t wait to keep adding more.
How much energy do we spend on finding that one thing? That one thing that can blow the lid on our life, and change everything. That transformative moment that will take us from ordinary to extraordinary.
Have you ever considered the possibility of never finding that one thing? As Tyler Durden said in Fight Club, “This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.” Don’t wait for your life to end to explore your interests. The good news here? You have time. I have time. We all have time. Even if we don’t find ‘one’ passion, we will have done incredible things. We will have skydived, found love, wrote a book, spoken to an audience, anything. So while it’s ending one minute at a time, there are a ton of minutes. For any of us.
Society has taught us that those with a true north star, a guiding passion, are extremely successful. Elon wants to build rockets, Gary V wants to buy the Jets, Kobe was obsessed with his craft. That level of certainty required to be successful adds an unnecessary pressure. There is a feeling of failure if your peers catch you fumbling. We’re supposed to be put together, on an indestructible journey that we somehow came up with in high-school. It begs the question, at what point do we stop feeling shame about leaping from one idea to another?
There is nothing dishonorable about playing frogger with your passions.
THERE’S NO SHAME IN DISCOVERY.
I understand there is a certain level of vulnerability involved with trying new things. You have to learn to accept that there are people that won’t be interested in what you spend your time on. Some of your friends won’t care much, and there are undoubtedly people that will make fun of you. As someone who can dish it but can’t take it, I assure you people will pick on you for it.
Not even to mention, it sucks trying new things (at first). When many of us spend most of our waking time working, there isn’t a ton of energy to put into things after work. Also, we experience performance anxiety. Fear of rejection from our peers makes sharing our interests crippling, and sometimes humiliating. But we must still try, because the only way to get fulfillment from life is by experiencing instead of just participating.
And here’s the kicker. I’m not even convinced that any of us will ever find a singular passion. There is no shame in that. It really felt like I had been on this ever elusive quest to find out what it is. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way. That innate desire to be someone with a north star so bright you can navigate life with absolute certainty and resolution.
But what if that is our passion all along? What if anyone’s passion is exploring life and everything that is offered by it? What if instead of just one thing, our passion is instead the effort, the adversity, and the happiness we experience from the act of trying?
If you’re feeling particularly lost in finding your passion, my best advice is to begin to live your life unapologetically trying every single thing you can get your hands on. Make that leap into that consulting role you’ve always been thinking about. Start seeing what writing a book is all about. Paint your heart out. The point I’m making here is that you just need to start doing anything.
So really, I disagree with the premise of a singular passion entirely. In fact, I argue:
- Our passions build on each other over time. They are sometimes fleeting. But they all compound. They will expand into a beautiful garden.
- We have the propensity to have any number of passions, an array of hobbies that fulfill us at entirely different points. They are sometimes boring. But not all the time.
- It takes vulnerability to be open about your adventure to try new things. Generally, people will support you, but sometimes they won’t. Others may not care. But being vulnerable is a muscle and needs to be stretched.
It’s funny how things work out sometimes. I was on the phone with another friend recently. That question came up. I didn’t hesitate to rattle off what I was excited about. It was the best feeling ever. While I haven’t found that one, singular thing, I’ve instead found a garden of things to be grateful for.
Your passion is very much a journey. I am largely just beginning mine. Right now it is writing. I’ve also been finding a lot of excitement in running recently. I think there’s something to the whole video creation thing, too.
Give me 20 years and it will be something beautiful.